Monday, October 13, 2014

Essay Post...Why Be Moral?



Hello dear readers...

Following up on the topic of the last post about identity, this week we were asked to discuss why we live life the way we do....in essence, why be moral? Is morality something that is subjective to each person, or is there an objective morality that holds true for all? We were asked to talk about our own sense of morals and specifically, why we think they are important(or not important).

For inspiration, we were asked to read several works. One of which was Plato's "The Ring of Gyges", in which an everyday man finds a ring that can turn him invisible. The purpose of the work was to show that even good people can be tempted to do bad things when they think no one is watching. It further went on to give a lengthy philosophical discourse on how to know the difference between a just man and an unjust one by their reactions to being accused of injustice.

To me, all of this seemed like mental gymnastics for their own sake. Will people do shady things if they think no one is watching?....probably. But to focus on that fact and stop there seems to miss a big point. All of us make awful mistakes at some point in life, you simply can not be a human being and escape that fact.  Life is full of making mistakes, yet it's what we learn from them that matters. Also, it seemed to me that there was a danger in focusing on the philosophical and ignoring the fact that morals are simply choices we make in the small moments of every day.

This post was a much harder one for me to write than the last because who sits around thinking about why they hold the morals they do? We all have them in one form or other, but how often do we need to reflect on them really?

But before I start rewriting the essay here, perhaps I should just let you read it for yourself...



Why Be Moral?

Being moral is not a question we think about on a typical day. In fact, in thinking about how to write this essay I found myself struggling to get in touch with my own feelings on the topic. It is easy to get lost in philosophy, theories, and abstractions such that we lose all touch with the most important element of morality…the human heart. It is for this reason that I do not want to get lost in the abstract, but to talk about my own experiences on the subject of morality as I have learned them from life.

For myself, the notion of being moral can not be untied from religion and my parents outlook on life. As a child, I was raised on the ten commandments, the golden rule, and a very strong sense that God was watching me at all times and grading my behavior…indeed my every thought. Much of the reason why I would do or not do something came from the fear of God’s anger and the fear of hell. If I told the truth, I could imagine God was happy with me and all was right with the universe. If I told a lie and blamed it on my brother, then God saw that too and punished it. If you persisted in your wrong doing, then hell waited for you and nothing could save you from an eternity of torture. During my teenage years the list of things I was supposed to do and the things I must not ever do grew until it was a monster that took over my mind. To even be angry with someone, or to think a passing unkind thought became a reason to fear God would turn his back on me, and to fear I did not belong to him. I was told to read more Bible, think pure thoughts, and evangelize to friends. If I could not,  I was told that perhaps I did not love God enough or truly belong to him. The havoc this wreaked on my mind and spirit is a part of what taught me that morals are something more than the rules men add to religion.


Another example of this was in confronting my sexuality. Ask the average person what the Bible says about being gay and the answer you get will be negative. When I came out to myself, it was after a lifetime of hearing how wrong it was. I fought it, and I fought hard. It was when I had no fight left that I finally turned to face this thing that I had been told all my life was a great evil and ask…why? I had never asked why before. I just accepted what I was told. To this day I still can not find one palpable reason why the condemnation exists other than the cultural reasons of the day in which the Bible was written. We forget that the Bible also had is audience in mind, and each writer his own intention. There is a why to the morals that matter to us the most, but without understanding it you are just parroting other peoples words….not practicing morals.
Now, I do not mean to give the impression that I only held to morals because of the rewards or punishments of an afterlife. As I grew up, I did understand that the reason we don’t lie, cheat, steal, or hurt others is because we would not want those things done to us. Empathy for the pains and joys of others was, and will always be, the core of a real set of moral values that can only come from inside your own heart. But sometimes it takes a long time to learn those lessons and the making of many mistakes.

My family also conveyed to me a set of values that still effect me very deeply. My dad would tell stories of life in the Navy or of his work as a house painter and I always saw him as so tough. My grandmother, raised in a Spanish-Italian family would tell stories of having to work in her teenage years to help support her family. They picked fruit from the fields around Sonoma County for pennies per pound and walked everywhere they wanted to go. My family had many lessons to teach about what it meant to be a good worker. They were a part of a set of morals that came with what it meant to be in our family. You were a good worker, you didn't put on airs with people, and the family was the core of our life. Even when divorce and its consequences made family life more like negotiating a minefield than a loving support network, the values they taught me have carried on in me. I hope I am giving to my kids the best parts of those morals, minus the minefield.

As a parent, I understand morals differently then I did when younger. I am acutely aware that one day my kids are going to have to go out into the world and get along with the people within it. One of the many things I hope for is their success and learning how to be a good person goes a long way in that department. However, I also hope that they are kind and loving people. I want them to be the kind of people that would stop to help a man bleeding on the side of the road when no one else will stop. I want to impart in them a sense of love and concern for others that is one of the highest morals I think we can have as people. We know beautiful people by their actions, and I hope my kids grow up that kind of beautiful.

None of us are perfect people and all of us make mistakes. It is hard not to write on the subject of morals and not feel like the worlds biggest hypocrite because none of us are a master of them. Indeed, To be aware of a standard is to also be aware of how far you fall below it. It does not matter if it’s the grade of this assignment or the grade we would get on life. Morals are not about grades. They are about learning to live with each other. They are not simply a list of rules meant to make sure that society does not fall apart, they are what keeps us connected in the first place. I treat you with kindness and respect not only because I want those same things in return. I do so also because something in me can see something special in you…a spark of something precious. It is the appreciation that everyone around me has value and that my actions effect others like ripples from a pebble dropped in a pond. Some, may call that awareness a kind of love. Still others will claim that love is the only thing with any real value to constrain the heart. Aren't morals just that?…a constraint of the heart for something beyond ourselves?

Why I live the way I do is a combination of the lessons taught to me while young, as well as those I questioned, and the awareness that my actions have consequences beyond myself. I learned these lessons mostly through failing them, but each fail helped me to understand why the lesson was given. In turn, learning to empathize with the feelings of others brought each lesson home. Over time, I leaned to see that life was not a graded lesson. Nor was God watching me with anything other than love. Everyday I learn to see more of the ripples as they spread out and returned to me, distorting what lies beneath their waves. This in turn teaches me to look deeper…and to throw less rocks.

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So what about you readers? We don't often have to think about what makes for good or ill in our choices and how we live our lives. Furthermore, can we recognize that even our mistakes may have taught us lessons or brought us to a particular point in life that we can now recognize as positive?

But now it's your turn. What makes you moral? Is it something handed down to you through the generations?...or something you have learned through hard knocks? Was it the first time you have ever had to really sit down and think about why you are moral? let us know...

Until next time dear readers...


23 comments:

  1. I would have to say that this is the first time that I have ever had to sit down and think about why I am moral. Honestly it is not something that I spend much time thinking about, although it is something that I know I have fallen short of many times, and is something that I feel is always evolving

    I know that I am a mixed bag when it comes to morals, some of them are ones that have been handed down to me from my family and my parents, so are from my religious beliefs, and some are just ones that I have shaped over time as I have gone through my life, and even then the handed down and religious morals have been equally shaped by life and its lessons too.

    I know that one of the biggest over riding ones is to try and love others as I love myself (and even more during those times when love for myself is scarce) as every one that you come across in your life is uniquely special, and they are also all just trying to live their lives the best that they can. So even if you only meet that person one time in your life and they are treating you nothing like anyone would want themselves treated for all you know they are going through a hard time, and it can be being treated very nicely that puts a ray of sunshine in their day, and helps to improve things even if it is just the slightest bit. I know that is something that I try to practice with every person that comes across my path in life (even those that would seem to be an enemy) although I freely admit that I do fall short of meeting that goal, as I think that all of us fall short of meeting our moral code at times.


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  2. part 2

    This is the same reason that I don't try to hold others to my morals, as it is not my place to dictate for them what morals that they should fallow.

    I know that I feel that when it comes to morals one can only really I can only apply them to myself, and that to do otherwise would not be fair to anyone else.

    I know that my empathy for others is something that has very much been shaped by the challenges of pulling myself through more repeated periods of sever depression then I care to remember at times. (brought from having untreated bipolar disorder from my teens to my early 20's) And even the higher periods of mania (where often after a short period of time I would start to get frustrated and very moody) and most I do think that having such a drastic range of emotions, (it is hard to describe to someone that has not experienced them) has left me with a keen since that you never know what someone is going through just from looking at them from the outside, and that every one needs someone to be kind to them and even be there for them when things are hard.

    I know that also going through so many periods of down right despair where it seemed like the only way out was to end it all, and where even getting out of bed and doing the simplest things was a monumental struggle, yet I still went to school and latter on work and put in all the effort that I had, has really driven home the moral of never giving up that no matter what, because no matter how impossible it may seem anything it possible. As well as to put all the effort that you can muster into what ever it is that you are trying to do.

    I learned the moral of hard work from my family who instilled in me from a young age that putting everything into what it is you are doing, and to take pride in your work, which also includes being accountable for any mistakes that you have made. Because with out accountability you will never learn anything and you will lose the most important thing that you have which is your integrity. which then leads into always keeping your word even if it turns into something that you really don't want to do, even if it is a struggle. I have learned through failure that these ones are very important because they are some of the hardest ones to repair after you fail to hold them up.

    I have also learned that to not stand up for those that are being treated unfairly and against injustice is to ignore the moral of treating everyone with respect and like they valuable person ( or even group of people) that they are. And that to stand on the sidelines is to in effect give up that moral and throw it to the wayside because it is easier to not fallow through on it, and honestly morals are not always meant to be easy things.

    I think that I will leave it at that as this is turning into a very wordy response! I loved the post and the introspection that it promoted.

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  3. Eight years ago, when I had my rendez-vous with the one who is now my husband, I asked him: «Which is the purpose of your life?» And he answered me: «To do good to others.»

    This has been our gay agenda. But the Christian Tradition also helped us a lot. Thinking about the new world Jesus has inaugurated through his death & resurrection, we concluded that inflicting pain could not be God's plan for anyone; therefore we became vegan.

    It's good to be guided by the golden rule. We should love God «...with all thy mind». The Christian ethics have to be rooted in the reflection, not only dos and don'ts.

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  7. good read! this is the first time I have ever had to sit down and think why I'm moral LOL! What makes me moral? My husband, he tends to be my voice of reasons lol, and vice versa. I’m pretty sure my parental has influenced me greatly but as I get older it is more based on my judgments. I often try to foresee the consequences, so making good choices and being a good helps.

    have a great weekend!

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  9. Some people amaze me. The comments above are promtional not even about the post! Do people not read that this is a parenting blog! Show respect! Great blog though. Morals are hard to find.

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  11. When it comes to family morals you're right, we all are not perfect people and all of us make mistakes. I read some essays about family morality, they may help you out and get a better understanding. If you don't mind I'll share them here: Family Essay

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